Tuesday, December 27, 2016

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

Written & Directed by Tom Ford


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood, CA.  December 20, 2016  2:00 PM


When it was announced that Tom Ford, the renowned creator of sleek, colorful and extremely sexy clothing who first came to fame after reviving the Gucci brand in the '90's before later launching his own eponymous line, was directing a feature film, the news was met a little curiosity and a lot of skepticism. But that 2009 film, "A Single Man", based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, received rapturous praise for it's polished look, skillful direction and remarkable performances, particularly from lead Colin Firth who went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. This haunting film was one of my favorites that year and I couldn't wait to see what Mr Ford would do next.

It took some time because of the time-consuming demands of his day-job but Mr Ford has finally returned with his follow-up feature, "Nocturnal Animals". This stylish story-within-a-story takes us on a dark journey of a privileged yet dissatisfied woman whose life is disrupted by the arrival of a just completed novel written by a man from her past with it's disturbing contents rattling her in more ways than one. "Nocturnal Animals" is another visual stunner with plenty of thrilling twists and turns in addition to featuring some excellent work from all of the actors involved yet the emotional pulse of the film is far too icy and detached to fully draw you in.

Images of nude, obese women dancing provocatively opens the film, clearly designed to elicit shock and outrage to viewers. This turns out to be part of a successful art exhibit, curated by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a Los Angeles gallery owner. A striking woman of wealth and prestige, from her flaming red hair to severe make-up to her high-fashion clothing, she should be elated. But Susan appears troubled and unhappy. The relationship with her husband and business partner (Armie Hammer) has grown more strained and distant due to him constantly leaving town for work-related matters. Yet something even deeper is bothering her.

After receiving a manuscript from her former husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) with a note wanting her opinion of his new work, Susan is taken aback. This is because she hasn't spoken to him in almost twenty years despite many attempts to contact him. The book, called "Nocturnal Animals", is dedicated to Susan with the title sharing a nickname Edward had given her during their marriage.

As Susan begins to read, the story unfolds on screen. A family consisting of Tony Hastings (also played by Mr. Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura, (Isla Fisher) and India (Ellie Bamber) their teenage daughter travel down a long stretch of highway through West Texas. A car driving recklessly passes by with India flipping them the bird. The occupants of the vehicle want them to pull over but Tony refuses. A dangerous chase ensues until the Hastings are run off the road. The trio of foul, imposing men, with the leader appearing to be Ray, (played with searing menace by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) begin to harass and torment the family. Tony, a decent man paralyzed with fear and panic, watches helplessly as two of the men take his wife and child off in their car while he is dumped in the middle of nowhere by the other.

It should be of little surprise about the tragic outcome, leaving Tony racked with guilt and despair. Detective Andes (Michael Shannon) had been working on the case with no leads until a year later when a possible suspect is apprehended. Tony identifies him as one of the men involved and with the other killed during a robbery attempt, there's only Ray left to capture. It doesn't take long for an arrest but due to only circumstantial evidence, Ray is set free. Andes, soon to retire from the force, suggests they take justice in to their own hands.

Painful loss, deep regret and a hunger for revenge are a large part of the book. These feelings begin to trigger in Susan memories of her marriage to Edward and looks back at that time through a series of flashbacks. One key scene has Laura Linney making a brief appearance as Susan's mother. With a helmet of lacquered hair, a power suit and martini in hand, she warns her daughter not to marry Edward, feeling he's too weak to handle her needs. With a defiant desire to prove her wrong, Susan marries him. But her mother was correct and causes him unnecessary anguish and betrayal. By the time Susan finishes the book, she realizes she has become a literary inspiration.

Much like his work in fashion, Mr Ford has a strong, dramatic eye and a clear concept of how he wants his vision to come across. His influences lean more towards iconic auteurs like Hitchcock and Kubrick with their distinctive way of storytelling before filtering it through to create his own memorable imagery. Oscar nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who worked on “Atonement” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, helped create the different looks of each story with vividly rich color in the real world and a murky grime for the fictional story. Based on the novel, "Tony and Susan" by Austin Wright, Mr. Ford has given each story layered meanings yet neither narrative is effectively well-textured and the characters are far from complex.

"Nocturnal Animals" may not be as emotionally impactful as Mr. Ford's previous work in cinema but he still displays a vibrant dramatic flair and expert direction of his performers that makes this moody thriller a compelling view.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

AWARD SEASON NEWS ROUND-UP

As several critic groups announce their picks for the best of the year, it appears that "Moonlight" and "Manchester By The Sea" continue to dominate the field in award recognition. These films have not only won top spots from varied critics organizations across the country for the performances and technical achievements but received nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Golden Globes and both were selected by the American Film Institute as one of the ten best films of the year.

I just realized that I have never mentioned the Golden Globes or their nominations in this blog. I guess because I don't fully take them seriously as honoring the best in cinema ever since giving Pia Zadora the prize for "New Star of the Year" back in 1981. This year their nominations managed to be inspired ("Best Actor" nominee, Colin Farrell for "The Lobster", "Best Actress", Hailee Steinfeld in “The Edge of Seventeen” and a "Best Director" nod for Tom Ford) and head-scratching (acting noms for Lily Collins, Jonah Hill and Ryan Reynolds for "Deadpool"?).

Here is a listing of winners and nominations:

2016 AFI Films of the Year:

"Arrival"
"Fences"
"Hacksaw Ridge"
"Hell or High Water"
"La La Land"
"Manchester by the Sea"
"Moonlight"
"Silence"
"Sully"
"Zootopia"

2016 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards:

Best Picture: "Moonlight"
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Adapted Sceenplay: Seo Kyung-Chung & Chan-wook Park. "The Handmaiden"
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, "Jackie"
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Foreign Language Film: "The Handmaiden"
Best Documentary: "OJ: Made in America"
Best Animated Feature: "Kubo and the Two Strings"
Best Cinematography: Linus Sandgren, "La La Land"
Best Editing: Tom Cross, "La La Land"
Best Art Direction: Seong-hie Ryu, "The Handmaiden"
Best Original Score: Mica Levi, "Jackie"

2016 San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards:

Best Picture: "Moonlight"
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Best Original Screenplay (tie):Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester by the Sea" & Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, "Arrival"
Best Actor: Denzel Washington, "Fences"
Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, "Fences"
Best Animated Feature: "The Red Turtle"
Best Foreign-Language Picture: "The Handmaiden"
Best Documentary: "I Am Not Your Negro"
Best Cinematography: James Laxton, "Moonlight"
Best Original Score: Mica Levi, "Jackie"
Best Film Editing (tie): Joe Walker, "Arrival" & Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon, "Moonlight"

2016 Boston Online Film Critics Association Awards:

Best Picture: "Moonlight"
Best Director: Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"
Best Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Ensemble: "Moonlight"
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Foreign Language Film: "The Handmaiden"
Best Documentary: "Cameraperson"
Best Animated Film: "Kubo and the Two Strings"
Best Cinematography: Natasha Braier, "The Neon Demon"
Best Editing: Nels Bangerter, "Cameraperson"
Best Original Score: Mica Levi, "Jackie"

2016 SAG Awards Nominations (film):

Cast in a Motion Picture:

“Captain Fantastic”
“Fences”
“Hidden Figures”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

Female Actor in a Leading Role:

Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Emily Blunt, “The Girl on the Train”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Male Actor in a Leading Role:

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Female Actor in a Supporting Role:

Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Male Actor in a Supporting Role:

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Dev Patel, “Lion”

Outstanding Stunt Ensemble in a Movie:

“Captain America: Civil War”
“Dr. Strange”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Jason Bourne”
“Nocturnal Animals”

2016 Golden Globe Award Nominations (Film):

Best Motion Picture (Drama):

“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell or High Water”
“Lion”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy):

“20th Century Women”
“Deadpool”
“La La Land”
“Florence Foster Jenkins”
“Sing Street”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Drama):

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Joel Edgerton, “Loving”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama):

Amy Adams, “Arrival”
Jessica Chastain, “Miss Sloane”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy):

Colin Farrell, “The Lobster”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Jonah Hill, “War Dogs”
Ryan Reynolds, “Deadpool”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy):

Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”
Lily Collins, “Rules Don’t Apply”
Hailee Steinfeld, “The Edge of Seventeen”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture:

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Simon Helberg, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, “Nocturnal Animals”

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture:

Viola Davis, “Fences”
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Director (Motion Picture):

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Tom Ford, “Nocturnal Animals”
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Screenplay:

Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Tom Ford, “Nocturnal Animals”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”

Best Motion Picture (Foreign Language):

“Divines” (France)
“Elle” (France)
“Neruda” (Chile)
“The Salesman” (Iran/France)
“Toni Erdmann” (Germany)

Best Motion Picture (Animated):

“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Moana”
“My Life as a Zucchini”
“Sing”
“Zootopia”

Best Original Song (Motion Picture):

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – “Trolls”
“City of Stars” – “La La Land”
“Faith” – “Sing”
“Gold” – “Gold”
“How Far I’ll Go” – “Moana”

Best Original Score (Motion Picture):

Nicholas Britell, “Moonlight”
Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
Johann Johannsson, “Arrival”
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka, “Lion”
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch, “Hidden Figures”

Sunday, December 18, 2016

GREAT PERFORMANCES: L.A. NOIR



For this year's New York Times magazine Great Performances series, it turned to classic film noir for inspiration to photograph the sixteen outstanding actors selected.  The performers are Emma Stone ("La La Land"), Viola Davis and Denzel Washington ("Fences"), Don Cheadle ("Miles Ahead"), Taraji P. Henson ("Hidden Figures"), Royalty Hightower ("The Fits"), Natalie Portman ("Jackie"), Krisha Fairchild ("Krisha"), Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes ("Moonlight"),  Ruth Negga ("Loving"), Isabelle Huppert ("Elle", "Things To Come"), Sasha Lane ("American Honey"), Casey Affleck ("Manchester By the Sea") and Kristen Stewart ("Certain Women", "Cafe Society").


Photographer Jack Davison took some amazing period-like pictures while Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") directed nine black & white shorts using the actors in virtual reality which enables the viewer to actually feel like they're in the scene. Also Times film critics, A.O. Scott and Wesley Morris discuss the year in cinema, highlighting the exceptional performances from this distinguished group.

Click below to view the article:

Great Performances: L.A. Noir

Thursday, December 15, 2016

2016 NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY

The female-buddy thriller, "Thelma & Louise",  Rob Reiner's comic fantasy,  "The Princess Bride",  Hitchcock's horror masterpiece, "The Birds", "Steamboat Bill, Jr.", the Buster Keaton silent, the '80's teen classic, "The Breakfast Club", Frank Capra's 1941 screwball comedy, "Ball of Fire", Barbra Streisand's film debut in the musical, "Funny Girl" and the animated films, "The Lion King" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" are just a few of the twenty-five films inducted in to this year's National Film Registry.  These widely varied films were selected because of their cultural, historic or aesthetic importance and to showcase and preserve the diversity of the American film heritage.

Here is the complete list of the films selected to the 2016 National Film Registry. The films chosen must be at least ten years old and this now brings the total to 700 films in the registry:

"The Atomic Cafe" (1982)

"Ball of Fire" (1941)



"The Beau Brummels" (1928)

"The Birds" (1963)



"Blackboard Jungle" (1955)



"The Breakfast Club" (1982)

"The Decline of Western Civilization " (1981)



"East of Eden" (1955)



"Funny Girl" (1968)


"Life of an American Fireman" (1903)

"The Lion King" (1994)

"Lost Horizon" (1937)

"The Musketeers of a Pig Alley" (1912)

"Paris Is Burning" (1990)

"Point Blank" (1967)



"The Princess Bride" (1987)



"Putney Swope" (1969)



"Rushmore" (1998)



"Solomon Sir Jones" films (1924-28)

"Steamboat Bill, Jr." (1928)


"Suzanne, Suzanne" (1982)

"Thelma & Louise" (1991)

"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1916)

"TA Walk in The Sun" (1945)

"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

THE ENDURING ALLURE OF ISABELLE HUPPERT


Although she may be an unfamiliar name to the average American film goer, Isabelle Huppert is hardly a novice to cinema. This French legend has been making films since 1971 and is said to have appeared in at least one hundred since then.

I remember first encountering Ms Huppert in one of her infrequent English-language ventures back in 1987 with an early Curtis Hanson film, "The Bedroom Window", a psychological crime thriller which she co-starred with the odd line-up of Steve Guttenberg and Elizabeth McGovern. While it was fairly standard but entertaining, I do remember being dazzled by this exotic actress, clearly the most interesting aspect of this film as she stood out with her unusually still and definitively European performance. I have been a fan ever since and saw whatever of her native-language films that made it to the U.S. Some of my favorites include Claude Chabrol's "Story of Women" and "Madame Bovary", "8 Women", the musical from Francois Ozon, "White Material" by Claire Denis and one of her more daring roles in the erotic thriller "The Piano Teacher".

There has been a lot of attention buzzing around this iconic actress this year due to her amazing performance in Paul Verhoeven's comeback feature "Elle", another sexually-charged yet disturbing drama as well as for her appearance in the latest from Mia Hansen-Love, "Things To Come (L'Avenir").

The New York Times has done a rare, in-depth profile of the private Huppert, covering her life and career while also providing a proper introduction to America as we will be seeing her quite frequently during this award season. Oh, and the correct pronunciation of her last name is hoo-pear.

Click below to read the article:

The Enduring Allure of Isabelle Huppert

Friday, December 9, 2016

ELLE (2016)

Written by David Birke


Directed by Paul Verhoeven


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 14, 2016  7:00 PM


One thing you can say about Paul Verhoeven is that he is not subtle. The Dutch film maker has earned a reputation for creating cinema that is proudly audacious, extreme and provocative. And his films, particularly his Hollywood work, such as "Robocop", "Basic Instinct", and "Showgirls", are filled with a shocking amount of graphic violence and sexuality, particularly at their time of release, that were met with an equal amount of praise and revilement.

After taking a lengthy hiatus from making films, he had originally developed "Elle" as a Hollywood film and had approached several top American actresses for the lead role. But they had all turned him down due to the disturbing nature of the project. So Verhoeven changed the setting to France, took a crash course in French and brought Isabelle Huppert, a legendary performer known for being quite fearless, on board. This explosive duo manages to turn this story of a woman who is savagely violated, physically and emotionally, and enacts revenge in ways that are perplexing and unpredictable in to one of the most unsettling thrillers of the year.

The film opens with the horrific aftermath of a sexual assault by a masked assailant, with him leaving his victim, Michèle Leblanc (Huppert) badly bruised and bleeding on the floor. But what is most shocking is her reaction after this traumatizing event. She calmly picks herself up, cleans up the broken dishes, takes a long bath and orders a pizza, barely acknowledging to herself what has just happened nor making any attempt to notify the police. The next day she carries on, displaying no sign that something terrible occurred, as the head of a successful video game company. As a tough, no-nonsense female in a male dominated industry, Michèle receives either bitter resentment or lustful infatuation from her mostly male employees.

Michèle has had a long history of troubled relationships with men beginning with her father. He's serving a life prison sentence for a horrific crime, a scandal of which she was dragged in to as a young teen, leaving her ostracized and distrustful of the police. While having a somewhat civil relationship with her ex-husband (Charles Berling), she's having difficulties with their overwrought son (Jonas Bloquet) largely due to his gold-digging, pregnant girlfriend (Alice Isaaz). Michèle also has been engaged in an affair with the husband (Christian Berkel) of her close friend and business colleague, Anna (Anne Consigny). But she now wants this liaison to end because she has become infatuated with Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), her married, next-door neighbor.

After receiving an e-mail taunting her about the attack and promising a return visit, Michèle decides to begin her own investigation and engage in self-defense. She purchases pepper-spray, learns to fire a gun and has the computers of all of her employees searched. Despite her best efforts, Michèle is assaulted again but this time she's ready to fight back. She wounds her attacker, unmasking him and discovering she knows the man. Yet her response is not at all what would be expected. Michèle calmly continues her communication with this man, engaging in behavior that makes her appear oddly charmed and intrigued.

If the intention with "Elle" was to provoke, offend, confuse and titillate, then Verhoeven has succeeded like a champion. But the director is also a master at presenting social satire and sexual politics in a way that's cogitative, stylish and with a wicked sense of humor. With an effective script by David Birke, which is based on the Philippe Djian novel, "No. . .", the film takes us on a outlandishly perverse journey of a woman who finally finds a way to liberate herself from being a victim and takes back control of her life.

Not well-known here stateside, Ms Huppert is one of the most honored and acclaimed actresses in the world. Similarly to Meryl Streep, she is the most nominated actress for the César Award, the French equivalent of the Oscar, with 15 nominations. And while our Ms Streep is respected for her chameleon-like abilities as a performer, Ms Huppert is lauded for her willingness to explore dark, emotionally complex characters and her work in "Elle" certainly fits that bill. Her character is hardly likable. Michèle can be brutally blunt, dismissive and unnecessarily cruel to friends and family alike. But the actress is quietly hypnotic, keeping you fascinated by her every move. Ms Huppert's powerful presence holds the film in place, making every seemingly crazy and preposterous reaction somehow plausible.

It's clear that some will see "Elle" as an authoritative female empowerment account while others will look at this as no more than an overheated male fantasy. Regardless, this admirably difficult film remains thoroughly fascinating, filled with heightened emotions, twisted sexual games, black comedy and features one of the most spectacularly brave, astonishing and demented performances this year by Ms Huppert.

Monday, December 5, 2016

MORE AWARD SEASON NEWS

Critics on both coasts have just weighed in on their picks for the best films of 2016 and it should hardly be unexpected that there were different opinions. The New York Film Critics Circle proclaimed on December 1st that Daniel Chazelle's modern musical, "La La Land" was their top choice while "Moonlight", Barry Jenkins's moving drama, was selected yesterday as the best by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. There were certainly areas of agreement with both selecting Mr. Jenkins as Best Director, the Best Actress prize to Isabelle Huppert for her mesmerizing work in "Elle" and two more "Moonlight" wins for Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor to Mahershala Ali.

And both groups offered a few surprises. The most notable with the New York critics was the naming of "La La Land" for Best Film as it received no other awards from them. While L.A. offered quite a few bold picks like awarding Best Actor to Adam Driver for his amazing turn in Jim Jarmusch's latest, "Paterson", Lily Gladstone for her graceful supporting performance in "Certain Women", the wonderfully weird script of "The Lobster" took Best Screenplay and "I Am Not Your Negro", the outstanding documentary on writer James Baldwin, was named the best.

2016 New York Film Critics Circle Award Winners:


Best Film: "La La Land"
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Best Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, "Elle"
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams, "Manchester by the Sea" and "Certain Women"
Best Animated Film: "Zootopia"
Best Cinematography: James Laxton, "Moonlight"
Best First Film: (tie) "The Edge of Seventeen" and "Krisha"
Best Foreign Film: "Toni Erdmann" (Germany)
Best Non-Fiction Film (documentary): "O.J.: Made in America"

2016 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award Winners:


Best Picture: "Moonlight"
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Best Screenplay: Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos, "The Lobster"
Best Actor: Adam Driver, "Paterson"
Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, "Elle" and "Things To Come"
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"
Best Supporting Actress: Lily Gladstone, "Certain Women"
Best Animation: "Your Name"
Best Foreign Language Film: "The Handmaiden"
Best Documentary: "I Am Not Your Negro"
Best Cinematography: James Laxton, "Moonlight"
Best Editing: Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski, "OJ: Made in America"
Best Production Design: Ryu Seong-hee, "The Handmaiden"
Best Music Score: Justin Hurwitz, "La La Land"

Sunday, December 4, 2016

THE AUTEURS CHANGING CINEMA


    Barry Jenkins

    David Chazelle

An auteur is a French term for a director whose individual style and complete control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp. This year seems to have a high number of these film makers and their dazzling work is receiving a lot of attention and acclaim. The New York Times has selected seven writer/directors to profile and they are Barry Jenkins ("Moonlight"), David Chazelle ("La La Land"), Mike Mills ("20th Century Women"), Andrea Arnold ("American Honey"), Jeff Nichols ("Loving"), Kenneth Lonergan ("Manchester By The Sea") and Tom Ford ("Nocturnal Animals") and features video interviews with some of the film makers who discuss pivotal scenes in their films.

Click below to read the article:

The Auteurs Changing Cinema

Thursday, December 1, 2016

COME TOGETHER


The idiosyncratic film maker, Wes Anderson has teamed-up with the fast-fashion company, H&M to make "Come Together", a short film (or what some might refer to as a commercial) for the 2016 Christmas collection. Oscar-winner, Adrien Brody is featured prominently in the whimsical short and is sure to help get people in the shopping spirit and perhaps bring some holiday cheer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

AWARD SEASON BEGINS


With the first round of award season just beginning, "Manchester by The Sea" received the top prize from the National Board of Review for Best Film while "Moonlight" tied with "American Honey" with the most nominations at six from the 2016 Independent Spirit Awards. "Manchester" did receive five noms including Best Feature from the Spirits although director, Kenneth Lonergan was absent from the Best Director category.

Some notable wins from the NBR include the surprising choice of Amy Adams for Best Actress for "Arrival", Jeff Bridges taking the Best Supporting Actor prize for the sleeper hit, "Hell or High Water" and "Kubo and the Two Strings" beating "Zootopia" for Best Animated Feature. And for a film that has barely been screened, Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese taking the Best Adapted Screenplay award for "Silence" was certainly unexpected.

The Spirit Awards, which highlights the best in indie cinema, will bring some much needed attention with nominations to some great films and performances from this year that might get overlooked. Some of these include "Little Men", "Other People" that also features the amazing work by Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon, Lily Gladstone in "Certain Women", "Spa Night", Ralph Fiennes in “A Bigger Splash” and the perfectly creepy, New England horror flick, "The Witch".

2016 National Board of Review winners:

Best Film: "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Actress: Amy Adams, "Arrival"
Best Supporting Actor: Jeff Bridges, "Hell or High Water"
Best Supporting Actress: Naomie Harris, "Moonlight"
Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester by the Sea"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, "Silence"
Best Animated Feature: "Kubo and the Two Strings"
Breakthrough Performance (Male): Lucas Hedges, "Manchester by the Sea"
Breakthrough Performance (Female): Royalty Hightower, "The Fits"
Best Directorial Debut: Trey Edward Shults, "Krisha"
Best Foreign Language Film: "The Salesman"
Best Documentary: "O.J.: Made in America"
Best Ensemble: "Hidden Figures"
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: "Cameraperson"

2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations

Best Feature:

“American Honey”
“Chronic”
“Jackie”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”

Best Director:

Andrea Arnold, “American Honey”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Pablo Larrain, “Jackie”
Jeff Nichols, “Loving”
Kelly Reichardt, “Certain Women”

Best Screenplay:

Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”
Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias, “Little Men”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Mike Mills, “20th Century Women”

Best First Feature:

“The Childhood of a Leader”
“The Fits”
“Other People”
“Swiss Army Man”
“The Witch”

Best First Screenplay:

Adam Mansbach, “Barry”
Craig Shilowich, “Christine”
Stella Meghie, “Jean of the Joneses”
Chris Kelly, “Other People”
Robert Eggers, “The Witch”

Best Male Lead:

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
David Harewood, “Free in Deed”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Jesse Plemons, “Other People”
Tim Roth, “Chronic”

Best Female Lead:

Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Sasha Lane, “American Honey”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Best Supporting Male:

Ralph Fiennes, “A Bigger Splash”
Ben Foster, “Hell or High Water”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Shia LaBeouf, “American Honey”
Craig Robinson, “Morris from America”

Best Supporting Female:

Edwina Findley, “Free in Deed”
Paulina Garcia, “Little Men”
Lily Gladstone, “Certain Women”
Riley Keough, “American Honey”
Molly Shannon, “Other People”

Best International Film:

“Aquarius” (Brazil)
“Chevalier” (Greece)
“My Golden Days” (France)
“Toni Erdmann” (Germany/Romania)
“Under the Shadow” (Iran/United Kingdom)

Best Documentary Feature:

“13th”
“Cameraperson”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“O.J.: Made in America”
“Sonita”
“Under the Sun”

Best Cinematography:

“American Honey”
“Childhood”
“Free in Deed”
“Eyes of My Mother”
“Moonlight”

Best Editing:

“Hell or High Water”
“Jackie”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Moonlight”
“Swiss Army Man”

John Cassavetes Award:

“Free in Deed”
“Hunter Gatherer”
“Lovesong”
“Nakom”
“Spa Night”

Robert Altman Award: “Moonlight”

Truer Than Fiction Award:

Kristi Jacobson, “Solitary”
Sara Jordeno, “Kiki”
Nanfu Wang, “Holligan Sparrow”

Someone to Watch Award:

Andrew Ahn, “Spa Night”
Claire Carre, “Embers”
Anna Rose Holmer, “The Fits”
Ingrid Jungermann, “Women Who Kill”

Sunday, November 20, 2016

PAST FORWARD


The latest example of fashion and film coming together is a collaboration between designer Miuccia Prada and David O. Russell, director of "Silver Linings Playbook", "The Fighter" and "American Hustle". Together they have created a black & white, silent, twelve minute film called "Past Forward". A stylish and dream-like mind-trip that features Allison Williams, Freida Pinto and Kuoth Wiel playing variations of the same role. Look for John Krasinski, Connie Britton, Paula Patton and Sacha Baron Cohen who all make brief appearances. A sneak peak of "Past Forward" premiered this past September during the Prada fashion show in Milan. Now you can check out the entire film:

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

KING COBRA (2016)

Written & Directed by Justin Kelly


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. October 30, 2016 7:15 PM


James Franco, with his curious fascination in gay male culture, takes us on another excursion, as an actor and co-producer, with "King Cobra", a bleak examination in to the sleazy world of porn and a rivalry between two studios, each wanting a piece of a sexy young stud, which leads to frustration, resentment and ultimately, murder. Writer/director Justin Kelly has managed to bring a lighter tone and even some humor to this grim, based-on-fact story but the outcome still doesn't completely captivate.

Stephen (Christian Slater) may appear to be a mild-mannered, local photographer, specializing in family portraits but that is not how he really makes a living. He is the owner of Cobra Video, a one-man operation that involves encouraging hot, young men to engage in sexual acts on camera. His latest find is Sean Paul Lockhart (Garrett Clayton), a very young-looking eighteen year old from San Diego. Insecure and in need of money, Lockhart auditions for Stephen and impresses the director with his natural charisma.

Sean is renamed "Brent Corrigan" and quickly becomes a popular new star. While he enjoys the trappings of his success, Sean begins to resent Stephen's control over his career and finances, especially after being pressured to start a sexual relationship with him. After being denied a proper raise, Sean threatens to leave but is reminded that he's under contract and his stage name is owned by Stephen.

But then Sean drops a bombshell. He was underage when he began filming and threatens to go to the police unless he's released. Stephen calls his bluff and Sean reluctantly reports his story which effectively shuts down the company. The now-legal performer tries to find work with other studios but no one will touch him because of the scandal and the contract.

Only one company expresses interest in hiring Brent Corrigan. Viper Boyz, a struggling, low-budget outfit run by Joe (Franco), an ill-tempered producer/pimp and his damaged lover and main performer, Harlow (Keegan Allen), sees this star as their ticket to the big time. They try to make a deal with Stephen but he refuses. Not willing to accept his answer, the corrupt pair come up with a diabolical and grisly plan to bring an end to contract renegotiation.

"Boogie Nights", Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant look at the seedy, drug-fueled yet family-like atmosphere of the 1970's L.A. porn industry, seems to have set the high benchmark of cinema involving the world of sex work. "King Cobra" lacks the style and passion of that praised film, having more in common with a Lifetime peril-of-the-week movie. Mr. Kelly's script feels overly simplified and rushed with the events that lead up to this tragedy clearly having to be more detailed and complex than in the way they're presented here. The characters are one-dimensional and have as much depth as what you would find in your standard adult film. Not that I would know personally, of course, it's just what I've heard.

With the exception of Mr. Slater's Stephen (based on the real-life Bryan Kocis and whose name was changed most likely for legal reasons) who convinces as a seductive predator, bringing a soothing menace to the proceedings and to a lesser degree, Mr. Clayton, who charms as the tough but sweet porn star, the performances are flat and uninspired. Two teen icons of the '80's and '90's, Molly Ringwald who plays Stephen's clueless sister and Alicia Silverstone as Sean Paul's clueless mother, make appearances that are far too brief to register and amount to nothing more than stunt casting.

With a salacious story combining the adventures in the skin-trade and a true-life crime drama, "King Cobra" delivers a healthy dose of titillation and sensationalism. The problem is it can't decide if it wants to be a dramatic retelling or a pitch black parody. And it's not entirely successful as either.

Monday, November 7, 2016

2016 AFI FILM FEST PRESENTED BY AUDI



One of my favorite film festivals marks their thirtieth anniversary this year, the AFI Film Fest presented by Audi. The event will begin on November 10th and run through the 17th with screenings held at the TCL Chinese Theatres and the Egyptian Theatre. To celebrate this milestone, the American Film Institute selected a diverse trio of classic Hollywood beauties and trailblazers to feature on individual posters. Dorothy Dandridge, the first African American nominated for a "Best Actress" Academy Award, Anna May Wong, the first Chinese-American actress to achieve international fame and Ida Lupino, an actress and pioneering writer and director are honored.


The opening night film will be "Rules Don't Apply", the first film directed by Warren Beatty in fifteen years. The seventy-nine year old actor also wrote, produced and has a featured role in the romantic drama as the reclusive Howard Hughes. Set in Hollywood during the late '50's, an aspiring young actress (Lily Collins) and her ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich) struggle with the wildly unpredictable billionaire for whom they work. The two are very attracted to each other but Hughes's rule that no employee is allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with a contract actress proves to be a complicated obstacle. Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen and Beatty's wife, Annette Bening also star.



And Ms Bening will be honored with a celebration of her amazing film career with a conversation and a centerpiece screening of her latest film, "20th Century Women" by director Mike Mills on November 16th. Another great actress, French icon, Isabelle Huppert will also have a tribute to her lengthy film career that includes over 100 features and television programs with a special conversation and gala screening of her latest from director, Paul Verhoeven, "Elle" on November 13th. Huppert will also appear in Mia Hansen-Love's new film, "Things To Come" which will be shown at the fest.



The closing night film selected will be "Patriots Day" which stars Mark Wahlberg and directed by Peter Berg. It tells the tragic true-life story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath of the manhunt to capture the criminals. J. K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon and Michelle Monaghan also star.



In between, there will be an impressive collection of the best of world cinema from some of the top filmmakers like Pablo Larrain ("Neruda"), Cristian Mungiu ("Graduation (Bacalaureat)"), Ken Loach ("I, Daniel Blake"), Xavier Dolan ("It's Only The End of the World") and Pedro Almodovar ("Julieta"). Some buzzed about features that have made the rounds at previous festivals will be screened including "Paterson", "Jackie", "Lion" and "La La Land". In addition there are a few world premieres like "The Comedian" starring Robert DeNiro, "Miss Sloane" starring Jessica Chastain and the latest Disney animated film, "Moana".









For the complete list of films, purchase express passes or receive free tickets and additional information, please click below:

AFI 2016

Saturday, October 15, 2016

THE DRESSMAKER (2016)

Written by P. J. Hogan & Jocelyn Moorhouse


Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA September 26, 2016 7:15PM


"The Dressmaker", the emotionally erratic film by Jocelyn Moorhouse, features Kate Winslet as a troubled fashionista who returns to her remote, Australian outback town years after being driven out as a young girl for a terrible crime she was accused of committing. What makes this even more complicated is that while she was present, the trauma from the event has caused her not to remember exactly what happened. While this 1950's set dark comedy, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, is supposed to elicit laughs from the oddball antics from the inhabitants of the town of Dungatar, the awkward shift from twisted humor to some horrific and disturbing tragedies throws the film out of whack, leaving viewers far more dispirited than amused.

After Myrtle Dunnage (Winslet), who now goes by the name of "Tilly", arrives in town by bus in the middle of the night, she lights a cigarette and utters to herself, "I’m back, you bastards". With the addition of her over-the-top, grand dame costume she created, you might imagine we were heading in to the high-camp of "Dynasty" era Joan Collins. Unfortunately the soap opera theatrics never materializes which would have added some much needed zing to the grim drama and strained comedy. The first person to greet Tilly is the town's police sergeant, Horatio Farrat (Hugo Weaving), a closet case who greatly admires her stylish flair.

When finally reaching her childhood home, she's shocked to find the place in a filthy and dilapidated condition while her mother, Molly (Judy Davis) is in even worse shape. Molly seems to be suffering from some form of dementia and doesn't even recognize her own daughter.

Word spreads fast of Tilly's return with the news particularly distressing to town Councilman Evan Pettyman (Shane Bourne) and his fragile wife, Marigold (Alison Whyte) whose son, Stewart was killed, allegedly by the hands of a young Myrtle.

During a local football game, Tilly arrives wearing a flashy, fire-red evening dress, distracting the players and scandalizing the town. One of the players on the Dungatar team, Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) asks Tilly if she could change in to something less disruptive. She agrees, returning in a black yet still quite form-fitting dress. After the teams switch sides on the field, the distraction of the titillating Tilly helps Dungatar win the game.

A former classmate, Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook), reveals she really loves Tilly's haute couture gowns, Since becoming quite skilled with a sewing machine while training in Paris with a master dressmaker, Tilly offers to make one for her to wear at the football victory dance. Mousy and plain, Gertrude has a crush on the handsome and wealthy William Beaumont (James Mackay) who doesn't even know she's alive. Even if he did notice her, his snobbish mother (Caroline Goodall) would never allow her precious son to become involved with the daughter of the owners of the general store.

At the dance, Gertrude is absolutely stunning in Tilly's creation, which draws out a new found confidence that makes her wildly alluring to the men in the room. Particularly to the Beaumont boy, much to his mother's horror. Tilly receives some attention herself from the footballer, Teddy and while she finds him quite appealing, her focus is on trying to solve what really happened to Stewart Pettyman and possibly clearing her name.

The discovery that several of the adults in town either knew more but remained silent or gave misinformation regarding what happened on that fateful day leads Tilly to disbelief, then anger to finally enacting the ultimate revenge. It's understandable why Ms Winslet would be attracted to this role. The Oscar-winner is given the opportunity to emote on a grand scale, allowing her to be a drama queen, a sexpot, a damsel-in-distress, a comedian and the love interest all in one film. Plus she gets to strut around in high fashion with the help of costume designers Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson but her effective performance is not enough to save this uneven film.

Ms Moorhouse showed great promise with her debut, "Proof" which gave early film roles to Russell Crowe and Mr. Weaving and won five Australian Film Institute Awards including Best Film in 1991. Then Hollywood came calling and, like their homegrown female talent, didn't know what to do with her or showed much faith. The two films Moorhouse did manage to make, "How to Make an American Quilt" in 1995 and "A Thousand Acres" in 1997 featured much needed stories focused on women. They were met with critical indifference and box-office disappointment though the performances by some of the actors featured like Winona Ryder, Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer were highly praised. Although Moorhouse would produce a couple of films for her husband, P.J. Hogan, it would be a disgraceful nineteen years before she would get another opportunity to work behind the camera with "The Dressmaker".

I must admit I had mixed feelings about her previous work and unfortunately "The Dressmaker" suffers from some of the same problems that plagued her American films. While Moorhouse has a great gift for inspiring amazing work from her performers and a detailed eye for striking images, she has difficulty shaping a focused narrative and relying too heavily on melodrama. The overwrought script, co-written by Moorhouse and Hogan, who memorably brought us "Muriel's Wedding" one of the first films to perfectly showcase Australia's wacky sense of heartfelt humor, is ill-defined, jumbling together various themes and genres that leaves a feeling of schizophrenia.

"The Dressmaker" seems to be aiming for those campy film noir dramas that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis starred in when their careers where in decline with their far-fetched plots and exaggerated characters. But there is a cruel and unpleasant undercurrent here, perhaps unintentional, that drains all of the potential fun out of the film,

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2016 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL


One of the most prestigious of all the film fests on the horizon is certainly in the Big Apple. The 2016 New York Film Festival will launch on September 30th and wrap-up on October 16th. Filmmaker and artist, Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives", "Cemetery of Splendor") was given the honor of designing the poster for the 54th edition of the fest, as seen above.

For the very first time, a documentary will open the festival. "13th", which examines the high rate of people being sent to prison in the United States with an alarming number being African-Americans, is the latest from director Ava DuVernay ("Selma"). The title refers to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery as well as involuntary servitude "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."



The centerpiece selection is "20th Century Women" the new comedy-drama directed by Mike Mills ("Beginners"). Annette Bening heads a cast that includes Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, and Billy Crudup in this '70's set story of a single mother who tries to teach her teenage son about love and freedom with the help of two other women.



And "The Lost City of Z" will be the closing-night film from James Gray ("The Immigrant"). Based on the book by David Grann, the film traces the real life events of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) who made several attempts to find an ancient lost city in the Amazon before mysteriously disappearing in 1925. Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller also star.

While these three films are world premieres, the main slate is made up largely of features previously screened earlier at one of the many other film festivals throughout this year. The selections are quite impressive with some of the high profile and acclaimed titles include "Elle", "Certain Women", "Manchester By The Sea", "Julieta", "Personal Shopper", "Patterson" and "Toni Erdmann".



There will be a diverse selection of shorts programs, documentaries, talks, experimental narratives, film revivals and retrospectives. Other highlights from this fest will feature special film events like the world premiere presentation in RealD 3D of Ang Lee's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" and the recent addition of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s first English-language feature, "Jackie" starring Natalie Portman. There will also be special evenings honoring two young actors, Adam Driver ("Patterson") and Kristen Stewart ("Certain Women", "Personal Shopper" and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk") that will include an intimate dinner and conversation with them.



For the complete list of films, tickets and additional information, please click below:

2016 New York Film Festival

Thursday, September 22, 2016

ART HOUSE THEATER DAY


Saturday, September 24th is Art House Theater Day! It's a day to recognize the contributions of film and filmmakers, staff and projectionists, and fellow brick and mortar theaters dedicated to providing access to the best in independent cinema.

Every theater is unique and the Art House Theater Day celebrations will reflect that. Several film distributors are offering exclusive programs that you will only be able to see on Art House Theater Day at these theaters.

To locate theaters across the country participating in the event and a list of films been screened, please click below:

2016 Art House Theater Day

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 DTLA FILM FESTIVAL


One of the newest film festivals, the DTLA Film Fest begins it's eighth event on September 21st through September 28th. The focus here is on bringing the best in independent cinema from across the globe to Downtown Los Angeles. The Regal Cinemas L.A. Live will be hosting the screenings and events.

The Opening Night film will be "Swing State", written and directed by Johnathan Sheldon. This political comedy is about a DJ who creates this outrageous conservative radio host character that becomes a media sensation, Shane Black, Taryn Manning, Sean Astin and Billy Zane star.



The Centerpiece selection is "The Loner", a modern film noir that takes place in Los Angeles. Set in the dark underworld of Russian and Persian mobs, an Iranian gangster is falsely accused of stealing drugs from his boss and must track down the person that actually did. Daniel Grove directs and co-wrote the script with Reza Sixo Safai who stars.

The Closing Night film honors the late David Bowie with a screening of Nicholas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell To Earth" which celebrates it's 40th anniversary. The film has been restored using a 4K scan and co-star Candy Clark will make an appearance as she receives the festival's Film Pioneer Award.

There will be several curated series which merges film and conversation. Some in the series include Art+Architecture+Design, Income Inequality in America, Webisodes and spotlights on Cuban, Spanish and Moroccan cinema.

Music documentaries will be on hand which will feature "Bjork: The Creative Universe of a Music Missionary" and "Hard Lovin' Woman" which takes a look at actress, Juliette Lewis and her second career as a rock performer. There will also be Los Angeles premieres of two documentaries on the Blues, ""How Berlin Got The Blues" and "Two Trains Runnin'".



For a complete listing of films, tickets and additional information, please click below:

2016 DTLA Film Festival

Monday, September 19, 2016

SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU (2016)

Written & Directed by Richard Tanne


When & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. August 30, 2016  5:05 PM


 "Southside With You", the impressive first feature from writer/director Richard Tanne, turns the real-life first encounter of the future forty-fourth President of The United States and his First Lady in to a lovely and captivating drama. A kind of "When Barack Met Michelle". But this is not a light and breezy date movie. The film features a warm, urban romance, set during a hot summer in the South side of Chicago, that is urbane and astute, as we watch these two alluring young people spend a day trying to maneuver around career ambitions, civic duty, political bureaucracy and physical attraction.

The year is 1989 and Janet Jackson's "Miss You Much", which is the hot new song of the moment, we hear blasting through the car radio of Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) during the opening credits. He's on his way to pick up Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter), a rising corporate lawyer at a firm where he is a new intern. Barack has managed to convince her to attend a community meeting with him but as his supervisor, Michelle was reluctant to go out with the attractive young man in any capacity. Since being the rare female African-American in a law firm run by mostly white males, she is very concerned about how it would appear if they found out.

However, the meeting won't begin for hours so Barack wants to take Michelle out, spending some time to get to know her better. While this was exactly what she was trying to avoid yet agrees as long as he's aware this will not be a date.

Their first stop is to the Art Institute of Chicago where they check out an exhibit of Afrocentric art. Barack introduces Michelle to the work of Ernie Barnes (that was used on the sitcom "Good Times" as the paintings of Jimmie Walker's character, J.J. which she never watched) and it's vivid depictions of African-American life. The couple spend a great deal of time trading stories about their lives, experiences and aspirations as they make the trek through the city towards their destination.

The focus of this meeting is on the building of a much needed community center with the people of this largely African-American neighborhood expressing their anger and frustration with the city's refusal to fund the project. Encouraged to offer some words of inspiration, Barack addresses the crowd, eloquently persuading them to consider finding alternative means to finance the center. After hearing him speak, Michelle finds herself entranced, just like the rest of the room, witnessing for the first time the moving and powerful effect he has on people.

While we know "Southside With You" is clearly a work of fiction based on true-life events, Mr Tanne, who spent much of his early career as an actor,  has managed to capture a believable essence of their story and of their lives. Taking a cue from Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's "Before Sunrise" film series, we spend a large part of this film just watching Barack and Michelle walk, talk and eventually fall in love. Since we know the outcome, there is no real suspense or tension to be found in the narrative. But what we do have is sparkling and lively conversation between two thoughtful and good-hearted people.

It would seem very difficult to convincingly bring to life two high-profile people still constantly in the public eye but our actors handle the challenge with poise and flair. With his first major film role, Mr. Sawyer may not share much of a physical similarity to our Commander-In-Chief but he delivers his confident swagger and makes him in youth far less guarded then he would ultimately need to become. Ms Sumpter (who also serves as one of the film's producers) is equally effective, displaying the steely resolve of the future Mrs. Obama that we're familiar with but also her softer side, particularly when Barack is able to soothe her at her most anxious.

After spending the afternoon together, Barack finally convinces Michelle to engage in a date-like activity. They go see Spike Lee's incendiary film, "Do The Right Thing". There is another flareup after the movie due to the unexpected appearance of one of her bosses but Barack and Michelle do eventually share their first kiss over ice cream.

Despite the inevitable predictability of the story, "Southside With You" offers something refreshing and rarely seen in American cinema. An intimate love story between two African-Americans that doesn't involve struggling in poverty, domestic violence, gang-shootings or raunchy humor.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

OLIVER STONE IN HIS OWN BLUNT WORDS


Oliver Stone, still considered one of Hollywood's leading provocateurs, has made his career tackling troubling and controversial subject matter (which many filmmakers would never be brave enough to go near) while attempting to offer analytical insight and an alternative perspective with his work. However, some regard his films as heavily biased, contentious and distorting the truth.

With his just released "Snowden", about the NSA contractor who leaked information on the U.S. government's surveillance program and now on the run, Stone has once again taken on a divisive real-life story and has made it very clear whose side he is on. The two-time Oscar winner recently spoke with the Los Angeles Times to reflect on this film and some of his previous work. This includes his first time in the director's chair with "The Hand", a critically-panned horror flick that starred Michael Caine to his greed-is-good drama, "Wall Street" to the questionable look at the Kennedy assassination in "JFK" and one of his most personal, the Vietnam set Best Picture winner, "Platoon".

Click here to read:

Aging Provocateur: Oliver Stone

Monday, September 12, 2016

WINNERS FROM THE 2016 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL


"The Woman Who Left (Ang Babaeng Humayo)", a black & white filmed drama from Lav Diaz of the Philippines, took the top prize of the Golden Lion at the close of the 2016 Venice Film Festival.  The film, which clocks in at a butt-numbing 226 minutes and inspired by the short story "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" by Leo Tolstoy, tells the story of a woman who was falsely convicted of a crime and has spent thirty years of her life in prison. Now free after a friend admits to framing her, she fights against seeking revenge and finding forgiveness.



Fashion designer turned film maker, Tom Ford won the Grand Jury Prize or the runner-up award for his highly anticipated follow-up feature, "Nocturnal Animals". The Silver Lion for direction was a tie with Amat Escalante from Mexico for his film, "La Region Salvaje (The Untamed)" and Andrei Konchalovsky for the Russian film, "Paradise" sharing the prize.



The Volpi Cup Best Actress prize went to Emma Stone for her dazzling turn in the romantic musical, "La La Land" while the Volpi Cup Best Actor was given to Oscar Martinez for his performance in the Argentine film, "El Ciudadano Ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen)".

Noah Oppenheim won the Best Screenplay Prize for his work in "Jackie", the Pablo Larrain directed feature about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy's life immediately following the assassination of the President with Natalie Portman in the lead role. Ana Lily Amirpour ("A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night") took a Special Jury Prize for her latest film, "The Bad Batch", a romantic horror-thriller starring Suki Waterhouse, Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves. And the Marcello Mastroianni Award for for Best New Young Actor or Actress went to Paula Beer for her work in François Ozon’s "Frantz".

Friday, September 9, 2016

25 OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS AT THE 2016 TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL


If it's September, then there must be a film festival. The latest is the 41st Annual Toronto Film Festival which began on September 8th and runs through September 18th. This Canadian fest is best known for it's mix of Hollywood fare, indies and World cinema. There will be an incredible 296 features and documentaries that will be shown throughout the event with almost half of the films being world premieres. Some of these have already made their debuts at Venice or Telluride, like "La La Land", "Nocturnal Animals", "Moonlight" and "The Magnificent Seven" and have received plenty of praise but will now get an opportunity to be seen by an even larger audience. Some of the premieres include Oliver Stone's bio-pic "Snowden" and "LBJ", Rob Reiner's look at our 36th President with Woody Harrelson as Lyndon B. Johnson and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird.

Even if you're not able to make the trip to Toronto, you may want to take a look at this list for some films that you might want to check out later this season.

Click below to Read:

25 of The Most Anticipated Films at 2016 Toronto Film Fest

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

2016 FALL MOVIE PREVIEW

The summer of 2016 may best be remembered for a glut of uninspired and unnecessary sequels, remakes and high-concept films that nobody wanted to see. The studios continue to shovel endless mediocrity in to theaters then seem shocked when audiences don't bite. While a few made some money,  the vast majority of them received critical and box-office failure. With that now behind us,  it's time to move on to the season of fall, where we will be offered fare that is much more creatively inspired and thoughtfully challenging. There are quite a few coming soon that look quite promising but I have narrowed down to the films that have particularly piqued my interest.

All release dates are subject to change:

"AMERICAN HONEY"

Release date: September 30, 2016

British writer/director, Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival for the third time with her latest drama, "American Honey". With an explosive performance by newcomer, Sasha Lane, the actress stars as a teenage girl who gets swept up with a group of young misfits traveling across the Midwest selling magazine subscriptions to make quick cash. This also gets her involved with some heavy drug use, tender romance and violent crime. Riley Keough, Shia LaBeouf and several real-life street kids co-star.



"MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN"

Release date: September 30, 2016

The title "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" pretty much says it all. The film is based on the best-selling YA book about an orphaned teenage boy (Asa Butterfield) who ends up going to live at a home made up of strange children with some peculiar talents, run by a caring headmistress, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). But there is a band of evil creatures called the "Wights" that are seeking out these children to destroy them, lead by the treacherous Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson).  And who better to bring this dark fantasy to life than Tim Burton, the man who has enchanted and unsettled audiences for years with his own peculiar brand of gloomy film making.



"THE BIRTH OF A NATION"

Release date: October 7, 2016

Actor Nate Parker and his debut project as a writer and director "The Birth of a Nation" has been all over the news of late but it's not been directly about the movie. Despite all of the unsettling circumstances surrounding Parker, I plan to see his film for two reasons; I have no problem separating the art from the artist and I don't believe in continuing to condemn someone who has been acquitted of a crime. As for the film, Parker also stars as Nat Turner, a slave who was taught to read so he could preach from the Bible to his fellow slaves to keep them obedient. However, Turner soon becomes aware of what he's doing and begins to encourage his people to violently rise up against their oppressors.



"MOONLIGHT"

Release date: October 21, 2016

Inspired by the play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" by Tarell McCraney, "Moonlight" follows Chiron, an African-American man through three key stages of his life; childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Beginning with life on the tough streets of Miami with his crack-addicted mother (Naomie Harris) as a nine year old to struggling to suppress his true sexual desires as a teenager to trying to find acceptance for who he is as a young man. Three different actors play Chiron at each period with Trevante Rhodes, a former Track and Field athlete turned actor, playing him as an adult. This is the long-awaited second film from writer/director Barry Jenkins who made one of my favorite films in 2009, "Medicine For Melancholy".



"AMERICAN PASTORAL"

Release date: October 21, 2016

Another actor making his directorial feature debut is Ewan McGregor and he's tackling the work of a major American novelist. "American Pastoral" is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Philip Roth and features one of his best known characters. Seymour "Swede" Levov (McGregor) is a very successful businessman with a former beauty queen wife (Jennifer Connelly) and lovely teenage daughter (Dakota Fanning). His seemingly perfect life begins to unravel when his daughter becomes involved in an act of political terrorism. Following the sublime "Indignation" from James Schamus, this will be the second film of Roth's distinctive work this year.



"DOCTOR STRANGE"

Release date : November 4, 2016

One of my favorite Marvel comic books as a kid was "Doctor Strange" so I'm quite thrilled that a movie about him has finally been made. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Stephen Strange, a top neurosurgeon whose career comes to an end due to a tragic accident. In search of healing and enlightenment, Strange travels to Asia where he encounters the Ancient One (the one and only, Tilda Swinton) who guides him on a course of the mystic arts. With Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Benjamin Bratt and Chiwetel Ejiofor.



"LOVING"

Release date: November 4, 2016

Following the amazing sci-fi, supernatural thriller, "Midnight Special" released earlier this year, writer and director, Jeff Nichols is back with a completely different type of film, "Loving" tells the true story of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man and his wife, Ruth (Ruth Negga), an African-American woman who dared to marry while living in the deeply segregated South. They were arrested and sent to prison in Virginia in 1958 for violating the state's anti-miscegenation laws. The Lovings fought the charges and took their case all the way to the Supreme Court.



"ELLE"

Release date: November 16, 2016

I don't know how well "Elle", the latest film from the controversial director of "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls", Paul Verhoeven, will be received here in Puritanical America but I, for one, can't wait to see this. One reason is for the appearance of Isabelle Huppert, one of cinema's greatest actors. The other is how Verhoeven, known for his fascination with sex and violence, will handle this disturbing story of a business executive (Huppert) who is attacked and sexually violated. She manages to track down the perpetrator of the horrific crime with a plan to enact revenge. Or does she have something else in mind?

"NOCTURNAL ANIMALS"

Release date: November 18, 2016

Fashion designer, Tom Ford surprised everyone with his assured debut as a film director with his 2009 feature, "A Single Man". He finally has found some time away from his busy day job to make a follow-up film. Based on the novel, "Tony and Susan", "Nocturnal Animals" is about Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner, who is given a manuscript from her ex-husband (Armie Hammer), asking for her opinion. The book tells the violent story of a family vacation that turns deadly (which is visualized in the film) and triggers in Susan memories of some dark events that occurred during their marriage. An impressive cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher and Laura Linney.

"ALLIED"

Release date : November 23, 2016

"Allied", the new film from Oscar-winning director, Robert Zemeckis, is in the spirit of those World War II romantic thrillers from the '40's. Two of Hollywood's current glamourous movie stars, Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play an assassin and French spy who fall in love during an assignment to kill a German official in Casablanca. Yes, the film is a little too obvious but it still looks great.



"FENCES"

Release date: December 16, 2016

For his third film as a director, Denzel Washington brings to the big screen "Fences", the first feature of the work by the acclaimed playwright, the late August Wilson. Washington and his co-star, Viola Davis recreate the roles they each won a Tony for during the 2010 Broadway revival of this Pulitzer Prize winning drama. Based on the screenplay draft by Wilson (with a light polish by fellow playwright, Tony Kushner), it tells the story of a former Negro league baseball player, who now works as a trash collector, as he struggles to provide for his family while trying to accept what has become of his life.



"JULIETA"

Release date: December 21, 2016

I remember clearly the first film I ever saw by Pedro Almodóvar. It was "Law of Desire" way back in 1987 during a trip to Toronto. I was a young man from the Midwest, completely shocked and mesmerized by the high drama, droll humor and uninhibited sexuality featured on the screen. And I became a hardcore fan ever since. That was actually the Spanish director's fifth feature at the time and with, "Julieta", this will be his twentieth production. This new melodrama, which uses several short stories by Alice Munro, is about a middle-aged Julieta (Emma Suarez) who desperately wants to make contact with her long-estranged daughter that she hasn't seen or heard from in over ten years. So the mother decides to write a letter to her child, revealing all the painful, dark secrets that she has kept hidden from her.